Naegele Outdoor Advertising Co. of Minn. v. Village of Minnetonka

Citation162 N.W.2d 206,281 Minn. 492
Decision Date11 October 1968
Docket NumberNo. 40781,40781
PartiesNAEGELE OUTDOOR ADVERTISING COMPANY OF MINNESOTA, Inc., Appellant, v. VILLAGE OF MINNETONKA, and Arthur C. Rydmark, its Chief Building Inspector, Respondents.
CourtSupreme Court of Minnesota (US)

Syllabus by the Court.

[281 MINN 492] 1. If a zoning ordinance is otherwise constitutional as reasonably related to promoting the general welfare or to any other traditional objective of a municipality's police power, the mere fact that aesthetic considerations were a significant factor in motivating its adoption will not invalidate the ordinance.

2. A zoning ordinance, enacted by a village pursuant to its police power, which as a part of a comprehensive municipal plan prohibits the construction of all commercial enterprises, including billboards, in residential districts and requires the removal of all preexisting billboards within a 3-year period is not so arbitrary, unreasonable, or unrelated to the general welfare of the community as to be unconstitutional by its terms.

3. While no statute expressly or specifically authorizes a municipality to enact an amortization zoning ordinance requiring the removal of preexisting nonconforming billboards from exclusively residential districts before a stated date, such a power must necessarily be implied to effectuate the powers granted in Minn.St. 412.221, subd. 32, which [281 MINN 493] authorizes municipalities to enact ordinances which promote the general welfare of the community, and in the Municipal Planning Act of 1965, Minn.St. 462.351 et seq., which authorizes municipalities to create residential districts pursuant to a comprehensive municipal plan.

Montreville J. Brown, David C. Donnelly, and Edward N. Denn, St. Paul, for appellant.

Carl F. Dever, Village Atty., Charles J. Hauenstein, Minneapolis, for respondent.

Louis Claeson, Jr., Minneapolis, amicus curiae.



On May 8, 1961, the village of Minnetonka, as a part of a comprehensive municipal plan, enacted a zoning ordinance which prohibited billboards and signs erected for advertising purposes within areas zoned exclusively for residential use. A provision of the ordinance required that all nonconforming billboards be removed within 3 years after its effective date.

On February 6, 1964, plaintiff, Naegele Outdoor Advertising Company of Minnesota, Inc., received a letter from the chief building inspector of the village notifying it that 14 of its billboards were nonconforming and would have to be removed by May 8, 1964. On the same day, General Outdoor Advertising Company, whose assets plaintiff had previously purchased, received a similar letter with regard to eight of its billboards.

On April 30, 1965, plaintiff commenced this declaratory judgment action against the village of Minnetonka and its chief building inspector, seeking to have this ordinance declared unconstitutional and requesting a permanent injunction against its enforcement. The village counterclaimed, seeking an order directing plaintiff to remove 18 specified billboards which had become nonconforming under the ordinance. The court temporarily restrained the village from enforcing the ordinance and from prosecuting plaintiff for its alleged failure to comply pending the outcome of the action, the trial of which began on January 12, 1966.

The trial court found that the ordinance is not by its terms unconstitutional but that it had been discriminatorily enforced against plaintiff, denying it due process and equal protection of the law. Enforcement of the ordinance against plaintiff was enjoined until such time as the village uniformly enforced it against all violators.

Plaintiff appeals from the judgment entered, assigning as error the trial court's conclusion that the ordinance is not unconstitutional by its terms.

Two issues are raised: (1) Whether a municipality has the power to prohibit by zoning ordinance the use of land in residential districts for billboard advertising; and (2) if so, whether the removal of previously constructed billboards can be required within a period of 3 years from the date they became nonconforming uses.

Plaintiff primarily contends that the ordinance is unreasonable and arbitrary in that it is based solely on aesthetic considerations which are not reasonably related to the public health, safety, morals, or general welfare, and that it is therefore unconstitutional on its face.

In Kiges v. City of St. Paul, 240 Minn. 522, 530, 62 N.W.2d 363, 369, we declared that ordinances enacted pursuant to the police power in this state 'cannot be successfully attacked on constitutional grounds unless there is affirmative proof that the restriction is clearly arbitrary, discriminatory, and unreasonable and without any substantial relation to public health, safety, morals, or general welfare.' While a decision of a legislative body on what promotes the public health, safety, morals, and general welfare is not conclusive, it is entitled to great weight. As we said in State ex rel. Howard v. Village of Roseville, 244 Minn. 343, 347, 70 N.W.2d 404, 407:

'Even where the reasonableness of a zoning ordinance is debatable, or where there are conflicting opinions as to the desirability of the retrictions it imposes * * *, it is not the function of the courts to interfere with the legislative discretion on such issues.' 1

The trial court found, and the village concedes, that the billboards in question have no detrimental effect on public health or morals. The trial court also found, apparently on the basis of the uncontradicted and unchallenged testimony of an expert witness testifying on behalf of plaintiff, that these billboards 'do not constitute a safety or traffic hazard along any of the streets or highways' of the village. 2 Thus, in this case, the issue of constitutionality must turn on whether plaintiff has established that the village council was arbitrary and unreasonable in its legislative determination that the exclusion of billboards from residential districts promotes the general welfare.

The ordinance in question is part of a comprehensive zoning plan designed, among other things, to exclude all commercial enterprises from residential areas. In the early years of the development of zoning law, courts were extremely reluctant to accept the judgment of legislative bodies that a nonconforming but essentially inoffensive commercial structure, such as a neighborhood store, endangered the health, safety, morals, or general welfare of a residential area. State ex rel. Lachtman v. Houghton, 134 Minn. 226, 158 N.W. 1017, L.R.A.1917F, 1050. Essentially, the only zoning ordinances upheld were those designed to eliminate nuisances. In several cases ordinances excluding billboards from residential neighborhoods were sustained on the ground that billboards are a nuisance. Cusack Co. v. City of Chicago, 242 U.S. 526, 37 S.Ct. 190, 61 L.Ed. 472; St. Louis Poster Advertising Co. v. City of St. Louis, 249 U.S. 269, 39 S.Ct. 274, 63 L.Ed. 599. In this case, however, the trial court found, and the village concedes, that plaintiff's billboards are not a nuisance in the common-law sense.

Thwarted in their attempts to use the police power, municipalities attempted to develop restricted residential areas by use of the power of eminent domain. After first holding that the power of eminent domain was not applicable to residential zoning since no 'public use' was involved, this court reversed itself and upheld such a condemnation ordinance. State ex rel. Twin City Bldg. & Investment Co. v. Houghton, 144 Minn. 1, 13, 174 N.W. 885, 176 N.W. 159, 8 A.L.R. 585.

Residential zoning by use of the police power alone was finally upheld in the landmark case, State ex re. Beery v. Houghton, 164 Minn. 146, 204 N.W. 569, 54 A.L.R. 1012, affirmed, 273 U.S. 671, 47 S.Ct. 474, 71 L.Ed. 833, in which this court specifically reversed its prior contrary opinions. In that case the city of Minneapolis had by ordinance excluded multiple-family dwellings from residential districts. The court stated (164 Minn. 150, 204 N.W. 570):

'* * * The police power, in its nature indefinable, and quickly responsive, in the interest of common welfare, to changing conditions, authorizes various restrictions upon the use of private property as social and economic changes come. A restriction, which years ago would have been intolerable, and would have been thought an unconstitutional restriction of the owner's use of his property, is accepted now without a thought that it invades a private right. As social relations become more complex, restrictions on individual rights become more common. With the crowding of population in the cities, there is an active insistence upon the establishment of residential districts from which annoying occupations, and buildings undesirable to the community are excluded.'

Exclusively residential zoning has been held consistently since that time to be a valid exercise of the police power. 3

In Euclid, Ohio v. Ambler Realty Co., 272 U.S. 365, 388, 47 S.Ct. 114, 118, 71 L.Ed. 303, 311, the United States Supreme Court, in upholding a zoning ordinance enacted under the police power which excluded commercial and industrial uses, including billboards, from residential zones whether they were inherently inoffensive or not, said:

'Here * * * the exclusion is in general terms of all industrial establishments, and it may thereby happen that not only offensive or dangerous industries will be excluded, but those which are neither offensive nor dangerous will share the same fate. But this is no more than happens in respect of many practice-forbidding laws which this Court has upheld, although drawn in general terms so as to include individual cases that may turn out to be innocuous in themselves. (Citations omitted.) The inclusion of a reasonable margin, to insure effective enforcement, will not put upon a law, otherwise valid, the stamp of invalidity. Such laws...

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